Taking Responsibility for My Health

The Locus of Control is a psychological theory which tries to describe the extent to which people believe they have power over their own lives. First talked about in the 1950s, the central question is "do I control my life or does something else (God, fate, luck) control it?"

Seeing my physiotherapist

I first heard about this at the end of my most recent round of physiotherapy. This was (I think) my fourth stint. Each time I've been signed off previously, I've been full of good intentions. But I've always ended up back there when my walking has worsened, doing the same (or similar) exercises all over again.

I ended up talking about my separation anxieties to my Physiotherapist at my penultimate session. After listening to my bellyaching, she began telling me about this theory:

"A person with an internal locus of control believes that he or she can influence events and their outcomes, while someone with an external locus of control blames outside forces for everything." - from the Encyclopedia of Psychology

Huge significance on personal beliefs

It seems like a simple idea but it has huge significance for a person's deeply-held beliefs. Do you believe in God? Do you have good or bad luck? If you make the right decisions, will your life turn out exactly as you envision it?

After describing the theory, my Physiotherapist pointed out that after you pass your driving test, you don't need to have an instructor with you in the car at all times. Similarly, she said that all the good progress I'd made with my walking was down to the work I'd done on my own, in between our sessions.

Afterwards a friend sent me a link to a site where you can see where you are on the scale. As I was just coming out of a double-header relapse, I was unsurprised to see that I had a high external locus of control.

What does this mean?

It might seem that it is desirable to have a high internal locus of control – to think that you have a degree of control over the things you are capable of influencing. These people might be said to have a higher degree of self-determination and independence.

However, it's not so simple to say that internal is good and external is bad. This kind of thinking doesn't take into account an individual's environment or opportunities. It's all well and good being determined but you might not - for example - have the opportunity (or competence) to excel in your chosen field.

So how does this relate to Multiple Sclerosis?

Well speaking personally, particularly when I was first diagnosed, it felt like this was something that had been put upon me. And this carried over into the period after I'd started Disease Modifying Therapies. I effectively handed control of my health to doctors, neurologists, nurses and drug companies.

And these experts do know what they're on about. But I still have a part to play – it IS up to me to carry on with my Physio and exercise. It's my responsibility to eat healthily and look after myself.

It felt really precarious when I stopped seeing my Physio. And it can feel utterly terrifying to think that I'm the only one who has the ultimate influence on my ability to be well.

Control over the situation

We don't have any control over the fact that we've been diagnosed with MS. But we have control over what we do with this situation.

And while I'm currently not working, maybe this has to become my job

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